Recent reports suggest parent company, UBM, has cleared regulatory hurdles for selling PR Newswire to Cision for $841 million. Indeed, Cision issued a press release of its own announcing the finalization of the acquisition.
What strikes me about the deal-making in this context is an amazing delta in trends: an events company is buying into the relatively new phenomenon of content marketing at a fairly low price relative to what it’s selling its traditional press release distribution business.
It’s a sign of the times, no? The press release is finally dead. Except it’s not.
Bill Sledzik, a professor at Kent State once wrote that the first time he read about the press release dying it was 1979. He wrote those words around 2010 or so and published his remarks on a blogging platform called Posterous.
Press Releases as Tools of Strategic Comms
To be clear, press releases aren’t magical either. Pumping out press releases, which are very heavy on adverbs and superfluous adjectives, may well please the executive team but it does little for the metrics.
That doesn’t make press releases useless, instead, use them sparingly for when your business – gasp! – actually has something new to say. A new product, a new service, a new office, a new executive are all traditional and valid reasons to dress up an announcement and try to earn some 3rd party coverage.
However, there are other subtle but savvy ways to use releases as tools of strategic communications.
1. Account-based marketing.
Account-based marketing (ABM) is on the up-and-up in marketing trends. It simply means instead of casting a wide net, marketing and sales align to pursue a very targeted market. In other words, selecting 10 or 20 prospects that share characteristics of your most successful customers – and then focusing marketing and sales resources on influencing those prospects.
This is very effective for businesses with vertical market strategies. For example, an enterprise software vendor — my employer at the time — had a large deal with an insurance vendor that had been pending for an extended period. The closing kept getting kicked down the road.
When we closed another deal with different insurance vendor, we quickly published a press release announcing the new customer in the insurance space. Our sales team made sure the right people saw it.
Getting that one press release out quickly took a full-stack effort – executives to lobby for approvals, sales to coordinate with customers, marketing to get as much exposure out of the announcement (think ABM-style PPC and email promoting the release), and of course, PR to get the release done.
The entire effort was not focused on mass media or media coverage, rather it was focused on getting just a few people, in one company, to see that release. We did end up closing that deal and the press release was a big nudge that helped the deal along.
2. Freeze competitive sales cycles.
Henry Ford is often attributed as saying, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” He might have been right, but probably only about cars being sold to consumers.
B2B companies can, and often do, build reputations based on what they are going to do. I’ve worked for, and with startups, that have been acquired shortly after making product intentions known. These announcements can influence competitive sales cycles too.
If a product team identifies a new market opportunity that is under- or poorly-served, publish a press release announcing the intent to bring a new product to market. You might get a little press, but again, the real value here comes from targeted marketing and sales touches to make sure every competitive deal in cycle gets disrupted. You just need customers to pause and say, “let me wait to see what this company produces before I buy or renew this existing product.”
Make no mistake, this is a high-risk-high-reward strategy. And you actually need to produce a successful product or you’ll have a hard time living down the reputation for empty promises and vaporware. In the B2B technology space, there are individuals that pin their careers on specific products and if you screw that up, you’ll never be forgiven. If you succeed, then you have a customer for life.
3. The press release *IS* the story.
Most corporate press releases begin with a lede sentence that reads something like this:
“ACME Company, Inc., a leading provider of [gobblygook] today announced a new and unique way to [gobblygook] for XYZ industry…”
Every B2B company does it. Everyone thinks they are unique and special but they all list similar-sounding features and benefits. Every corporate announcement looks the same and generally has these seven attributes.
- Heavy on adjectives in the headline
- Benefits in the subhead
- Lede sentence like the one above
- Self-aggrandizing executive quote says nothing
- Features and benefits
- Call-to-action (CTA)
Now place that in the context that there are upwards of 1,000 press releases each day being distributed by a single press release vendor. And there are dozens of distribution vendors. That means that on any given day there are several thousand new press releases being published that all look more or less the same.
If you want to stand out, do the opposite of what everyone else is doing: Write a news story that incorporates the principles of journalism:
- Write a clear and compelling headline
- Keep the copy factual and use adjectives sparingly
- Ask executives real questions for real quotes – these people usually are really smart and capable of providing good analysis that will make a press release interesting
There’s one more key piece – all announcements must systematically tie in your owned media platform – a corporate blog, news site or resource page. If you get nothing other than 1,500 page reads out of a press release, you absolutely must invite readers to subscribe to your other content sources.
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While there may be an emerging delta in trends between content and PR, the press release isn’t going away anytime soon. As strategically selected tools, for the right job, and at the right time, press releases do have influence. As it goes in integrated marketing, tactics work best when they are working together.
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